Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! It's gameday. The Falcons are in Tampa to take on the rival Bucs, and you've got lots of questions. So let's jump right in. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
Kevin from Sierra Madre, CA
My apologies to Wes Schweitzer. He came up big last Thursday night against the Saints, and he has played solid since the Seahawks game … though Matty Ice has really played unlike himself. I really wish Ryan would throw to Justin Hardy or Marvin Hall more as they are reliable receivers. He just can't target Julio Jones every time. We don't have Tony Gonzalez anymore so I suggest a solid tight end in 2018 NFL Draft. We need another red-zone target. Austin Hooper hasn't shown enough.
Matt: Hey, Kevin. When you have a weapon like Julio Jones, you want to get the ball into his hands whenever possible. He's a difference-maker, game-changer and arguably the best receiver in the league right now. I do not have a problem at all targeting Jones so much. And Ryan has thrown to other receivers. Let's look at the last three games. The last time the Falcons faced the Buccaneers, Ryan targeted six different receivers. Against the Vikings' stingy defense, eight different receivers were thrown to (Tevin Coleman and Jones were tied with a team-high six targets). And against the Saints, seven different players were targeted by Ryan. My point is that Ryan does disperse the ball around. Regarding Hooper, I disagree. While hasn't been a major threat in the red zone, I think he has shown improvement. Just look at his numbers from 2016 and where he is now with three more games to go:
- 2016: 19 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns (long of 44 yards)
- 2017: 41 catches for 461 yards and three touchdowns (long of 88 yards)
Jerry from Statesboro, GA
Hey, Beek. First, I want to put something in perspective for some of the fans on the fence. Nine of our games have been decided by seven points or less. We are 5-4 in those game. If you are above .500 in close games in the NFL, you are a gutty and mentally tough team. I read SFTB after Thursday's game and I can't believe there were no comments about the Color Rush uniforms. I thought they sucked, but that's my opinion. OK, now to my questions. Do you feel like our team is more balanced now as in who's carrying the team? Last year the offense carried the team. This year the defense is carrying the team. Next question, why don't we run more bunch formation? For instance, the touchdown to Sanu. On that play, Matt could have thrown it to either Julio or Sanu because both were open, however Sanu was more open because the safety came down to double Julio. After all of his recent bad luck, Matty Ice is due for a big performance. What do you think? I say look out, Tampa! In a previous SFTB, you mentioned making signs or T-shirts for the game. I made a sign, but I sit in the upper level and I don't want to block someone else's view. Where can I get a Beekers or STFB T-shirt? LOL. Or do I have to create that too.
Matt: Hey, Jerry. They key word is balanced. I do think the defense has improved this year, for sure. That's what dominated a lot of the talking during the offseason, right? Between free agency and the draft, several key moves were made to improve that unit and those were the expectations. I won't go as far to say that the defense is carrying the offense though. I do think this team is more balanced though. Regarding your second question, I'm not going to start criticizing formations and play calls simply because I don't have a problem with them. When you go back and look at this season objectively, play calls haven't been the issue that many have made it out to be. And I'll leave it at that.
Which brings me to your question about Monday night. It would not surprise me to see another big night offensively. The Bucs will be without three key defensive players, including defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. As long as the Falcons execute and limit their mistakes, I think there are some matchups the Falcons can take advantage of. And finally, regarding T-shirts and all of that stuff – haha, no, I don't have any of that stuff made, Jerry. I will say, though, that you've been a terrific supporter and loyal reader this season – and I really appreciate that. Let's see how the Falcons perform during these next three games. Hopefully we'll get a whole lot more to talk about here in SFTB and that home game at the end of the year is for the NFC South crown. Now that would be fun.
Richard from Denver, CO
Hey Matt, just a quick question. As good as Matt Ryan is, do you think the time is drawing near to look for a replacement? By that I mean another franchise quarterback who can learn under Ryan and Matt Schaub.
Matt: Replacement? No, I don't think the Falcons should be thinking about a replacement for Ryan. But, do I have a problem with drafting a quarterback, especially if a good one slides to the Falcons in the draft? Nope, I'm all for that. It's too important of a position and, as we've seen with other teams, a season can turn on a dime when a quarterback goes down. Look at the Packers, Texans and Eagles this year or even the Cowboys last year with Tony Romo. You just never know. That said, the Falcons do like Schaub a lot and, more importantly, they trust him.
Jayson from Honolulu, HI
Aloha Beek! First time I'm sending in a question. Been a Falcons fan since '04 and not too many of them around here in Hawaii. Is there any particular reason why Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman aren't thrown to by Matt Ryan as much to run in open space? It forces defensive backs to pick their poison and get confused on who they have to defend and, in my opinion, feeding Julio would be too one-dimensional for defenses to snatch up considering he forced some throws to him last Thursday night. Big mahalo for creating an ongoing train of thought for Falcons fans around the world!
Matt: Hey, Jason. You're welcome and glad you're enjoying SFTB. The Falcons do like to get the ball to Freeman and Coleman in open space – and do use them as receivers. A lot of it depends on matchups, Jayson. If they can get a favorable one with either Freeman or Coleman, you can bet on the Falcons trying to exploit that when the opportunity arises. Coleman has 21 catches for 245 yards this season (11.7 yards per catch) and Freeman has 20 receptions for 144 yards (7.2 yards per catch). To your point, when they do throw to them, they're both productive in the passing game.
Kayvon from Raleigh, NC
What's up Beeeeek? I love reading your column every day, as I have mentioned before. I really wanted to come on here and applaud the Falcons defense. They have seriously turned into a top defense in the league. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have done such a good job drafting guys like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, DeVondre Campbell and many more who have such speed and toughness. The past two games they have given the offense numerous opportunities to come back and win the game. Luckily last Thursday they were able to do that. The one thing that I just keep noticing though, and especially vs. the Saints, is how shaky Matt Ryan looks in the pocket and the lack of confidence he is showing. Now, I'm one of the biggest Matt Ryan fans you'll meet, I think he is an amazing QB and honestly doesn't get the recognition he deserves. I just have never seen him like this before and my question to you is why do you think that is? If you go back and look at the interception in the end zone, Tevin Coleman is wide open right in front of Ryan for a walk-in touchdown and Ryan doesn't even notice him. He isn't scanning the field and moving the ball around to 8, 9, 10 receivers a game. It's pretty much just Julio and Sanu and I think that has to do with his interceptions being up. What are your thoughts about his play this year? Have you noticed those same things I'm seeing or do you think I'm overreacting a bit?
Matt: Hey, Kayvon. I don't think Ryan looks shaky and, as I noted above in the first question, he does disperse the ball quite a bit to different receivers. Now, let's be honest about one thing though here: there have been some changes along the offensive line this season. Granted, we're not talking about anything close to what's happened in New York with the Giants' line this year, but the Falcons have used three different combinations up front. Last year, for instance, the Falcons started the same line during the regular season and postseason (19 games total). If there's a communication breakdown up front or if someone fails to pick up the right defender, that'll affect a quarterback in the pocket quite a bit – whether it's his timing or his reads downfield, Kayvon. Shaky is just too strong and negative for me. That hints at his confidence, and I don't think that is an issue.
Exzayvier from Spokane, WA
Hello. I have been reading since last season. Your work has helped shape my perspective of the Falcons for the better. I appreciate that. The defense showed up in that last win! Grady Jarrett is so consistent. I hope the Falcons sign him long term. He has HOF potential in my opinion. Do you see the Falcons drafting a defensive lineman first in the upcoming draft? Are there any D-linemen that should be on our radar? Thank you.
Matt: Wow, lots to chew on there. Jarrett doesn't get a ton of attention mainly because it's the nature of his position, but he has been consistent is enjoying a nice year so far. So, I'm going to agree with you there, Exzayvier. Although a lot of what he does doesn't show up on that stat sheet, he's currently on pace to eclipse all of his numbers from a year ago. But let's tap the brakes a bit before we start talking about the Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame potential. Let's string several outstanding seasons together first. I'll leave it at that. As far as drafting an impact player along the defensive line goes, I'm all for it. The better teams in the league are always strong up front – on offense and defense – so you'd have to pounce if a talented defensive lineman or pass rusher falls to you (and that player fits your template). Teams have been building their draft boards throughout the season and will continue to right up to the draft. It'll be interesting to see where the Falcons end up picking and who's available as it relates to their draft board. Right now it's too early to tell. Michigan's Maurice Hurst, Washington's Vita Vea, Florida's Taven Bryan and Stanford's Harrison Phillips are four defensive tackles to keep an eye on though.
Maniyu from Honolulu, HI
Aloha Beek! I'm writing in to see if you have any ideas for creative TD celebrations for the Falcons when they head to the Superdome — especially any in response to Sean Payton's incredibly un-coach-like display when he was yelling "choke" at, ostensibly, Freeman. Any thoughts on Sean Payton's actions? Thanks for all you do!
Matt: Wow, two submissions from Honolulu in one day. I have no comment on Sean Payton's actions. I'm sure he regrets it, too. Look, the celebrations are supposed to fun, not mean-spirited. I'd stay away from any of that nonsense you're referencing – just move on from what was a not-so-great moment for Payton. It'll be Christmas Eve when they play so why not do something geared toward the holidays or winter season? Maybe opening presents? Santa and his reindeers? Building a snowman? A snowball fight? I don't know. Just keep it fun. None of this choking business.
Eric from Birmingham, AL
I don't have a question. But can you tell the team TLTQ: To legit to quit. Like 1990 ATL! RISE UP!
Matt: Haha, yeah, I remember those days and those MC Hammer videos growing up, Eric. Those teams were definitely fun to watch and, as one player, said invented swag. What do you guys think?
Daniel from Newnan, GA
Hey Beek, really enjoy the column. I'm very excited about the next three games. I like the Seattle philosophy that Quinn has brought to Atlanta: Strong fast defense, a formidable rushing offence that will net 1,800 plus yards for the regular season and a premier QB. Passing attempts for Matt Ryan will be at his lowest since 2009. Is the Quinn QB philosophy based on a game plan of roughly 475 to 525 passing attempts per year? Under Quinn, Ryan has gone from 614 to 534 to approximately 500 by years end. GO FALCONS!
Matt: Hey, Daniel. I think the Falcons would like to run as many offensive plays as possible and dominate the time of possession every game. The more their offense is on the field, the less opportunities the opposing team has it to score. That said, a few obvious things would contribute to less pass attempts: less possessions, fewer offensive snaps altogether and more running plays. When you look back at this season, some of those were issues at certain points, especially in the first half of the season. Hope that helps.